Relatives of an elderly Regina woman only realized there was a problem last winter, when bills at her care home went unpaid.
That led police to charge a 48-year-old woman with theft and fraud, alleging she used her power of attorney to steal more than $200,000 dollars from her mother.
'Financial abuse by family members is more common than you think' - Ron Kruzeniski, Saskatchewan Public Guardian and Trustee
Officials at Saskatchewan Justice say they receive six to eight calls a week, from family members and financial institutions concerned about missing money.
"Financial abuse by family members is more common than you think," said Ron Kruzeniski, Saskatchewan's Public Guardian and Trustee. "Once you start to withdraw funds over and above your monthly needs, the question is 'why'?"
He said financial institutions can freeze an account for up to five days if a withdrawal seems questionable. When his office investigates a case, an account can be frozen for up to 30 days.
Tips on reducing your risk of Power of Attorney fraud
- Only appoint someone you absolutely trust.
- Consider appointing two or three people to share signing authority.
- Limit power of attorney to control over only a chequing account, and exclude long-term investments.
- Maintain contact with relatives in care homes, and staff there.
- Call a family meeting, and request periodic financial accounting.
- If the attorney refuses to provide financial statements, contact the Ministry of Justice. You may need to obtain a court order.
Source: Saskatchewan Public Guardian and Trustee
Kruzeniski said it's best to avoid problems while the power of attorney document is being drafted, not after the fact.
"Most of us do not want to give away the special independence we have of managing our own financial affairs," said Kruzeniski. He said a power of attorney document can be drafted years ahead of time, and released at a later date.
Lawyers who handle these cases say they have professional and ethical obligations to ensure a person signing over financial rights is of sound mind, and not being pressured to do so by a relative.
Saskatoon lawyer Mike Derbowka said dementia and other illnesses can affect a person's decision-making capacity. At that point, he recommends family members approach the person holding power of attorney, and request financial records.
"It's important that somebody who might be interested or next of kin perhaps steps up and pays a little more attention to the accounting, or makes an application for the accounting at court," said Derbowka.
Kruzeniski agreed, and suggested a family meeting is the best place to start.
"If you have suspicions, get an accounting. If an attorney refuses to give mom or dad an accounting that's a suspicious circumstance in itself."
Kruzeniski told CBC if he were a senior citizen in that situation, he would immediately revoke the person's power of attorney. He said in extreme cases, concerned relatives can also apply for court orders, to see financial statements.